As part of the conversation on the AOPA survey on why students drop out of aviation, we got an e-mail from Dr. Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D. She had recently completed a two-year research project that led to Teaching Women to Fly, which shares the results.
And they are depressing.
What makes them such a downer is not just the scarcity of female pilots, who are just 6 percent of the pilot population. It’s that their numbers have not grown, despite 20 years of trying by Women in Aviation International and other groups and individuals.
Like the dropout rate, this static, single-digit aviation participation by roughly half the population is another indictment against the industry’s rep of being innovative and forward looking, forward thinking, and forward acting. It is further evidence that aviation tradition is impeding its progress.
The survey, supported in part by grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund, talked to 157 female pilots, 54 of them in training. To be honest, the results, itemizing the barriers to female aviation participation, are little different from those discussed at the inaugural Women in Aviation Symposium, held (if I remember correctly) in 1990 at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott, Arizona, campus, where its founder, Peggy Chabrian, was dean of students.
The most interesting part of the survey is the list of 101 Ideas to Increase Women’s Success in General Aviation, which is distilled into a Top Ten. All the ideas were derived from the 294 surveys and interviews, which also complied the Top 10 Barriers That Stop Women From Learning to Fly.
What is surprising about this list is not that a “Lack of money for general aviation flight training” is No. 1. It is that the nine items that follow all easily fit the the broader categories of educational quality and customer service delineated in the AOPA results. Addressing them will not only make aviation more appealing to women, it will make becoming a pilot more efficient and economical for all who hold the dream.
Teaching Women to Fly tacitly agrees that the cost of flying, while No. 1, on the list, isn’t the preeminent challenge. 2011 is the centennial of the first pilot’s license earned by a woman, Harriet Quimby. To celebrate, Dr. Penny offered a goal of increasing the female percentage of the pilot population by 1 percent. Doing the match, she points out that this will require the certification of just 420 women. But with aviation’s dropout rate, which she gives as 70 percent, to get those 420 new female pilots means 1,400 women must start training.
Certainly, men and women learn differently, but the same is true among individuals of the same sex. It all comes down to the school environment, the relationship between students and teachers. In the additional responses from the male CFIs surveyed, one offered 10 items of additional wisdom that would benefit everyone in aviation regardless of experience. –Scott Spangler